Korean must be a very compact language

I do not speak Korean but was intrigued by this tweet from Donald Trump containing a note sent to him by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that contain the original Korean and its English translation. The Korean version takes up so much less space, only about 50% of the English.


  1. chrisho-stuart says

    That letter is entirely written in the Korean script. Korean is phonetic; if you know the alphabet, you can read it aloud without any idea of the meaning.

    You are thinking of Chinese. The Korea alphabet was invented in about 1444, as a means to give common people a way of reading without learning all the ideographs of Chinese. Each “block” of Korean text is actually a syllable, with three of four letters from the alphabet; comprising a starting consonant, a vowel, and a closing consonant.

    The development of the Korean written phonetic script is a fascinating story, and King Sejong who invented it considered one of the great heroes of Korea.

  2. cartomancer says

    I have no familiarity with the Korean language at all, but if the individual letters are indeed syllables then there are actually more syllables in the Korean version than the English.

    The nature of the English translation also seems rather artificial. Overly flowery and packed with jarring additional adjectives. I have a strong suspicion that it is that way because the translator was trying to render the literal content and formality of the Korean original, rather than trying to produce something that sounded natural in English. My brother, who translates and interprets from Japanese professionally, has often remarked to me that in order to make Japanese documents readable and natural in English you have to discard a lot of the fussy nuances of politeness that would, if rendered exactly, turn the translation into something bloated and stilted like what we have here.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Gregory in Seattle
    And it is taking over the world!
    Well, maybe I got carried away there.

    SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) — A minority tribe in Indonesia has chosen to use Hangeul as its official writing system, in the first case of the Korean alphabet being used by a foreign society, a scholars’ association here said Thursday.

  4. Mano Singham says

    chrisho-stuart @#2,

    Thanks for that fascinating insight into Korean language that deserves to be more widely known. I am going to look up the origin story.

  5. Mano Singham says

    cartomancer @#3,

    But if the nuances are there in the original, wouldn’t you expect the translations to have them even if they sound bloated?

  6. derek lactin says

    Hangeul is extremely simple. I learned to read it while I was waiting in the airport to fly to Seoul/Incheon. The big advantage is that similar consonant sounds are represented by similar shapes, and can be visualized as the shape of the mouth and position of the tongue when making the sound. All vowels are straight horizontal or vertical lines (possibly with a tick or two above.below or to the right/left). A second tick puts a ‘y’ at the beginning of the sound.
    Also, the first three letters are Ca Na Da, so I like it.

  7. OverlappingMagisteria says

    Learning to read Korean is really helpful even if you don’t speak it., since they tend to borrow a lot of English words. I don’t know how many times when I was in Korea, I’d be slowly sounding out some word just for practice just to find out that it was English. For example: 아이스크림 is pronounced Ah-ee-seh-keh-reem… which if you say quickly is “ice cream”. (Certain rules require extra vowels -- usually the “ㅡ” letter, which makes a sort of “eh” sound, is used)

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